Categories make it easier to file music, but don't do a whole lot for the art of enjoying it. Wild Seed _ Wild Flower, the debut album from Dionne Farris of Atlanta, makes you wish for a section for music that's just, well, cool.
Farris is not exactly a newcomer; you've probably heard her voice on Arrested Development's breakthrough hit Tennessee a few years back. Ironically, Wild Seed _ Wild Flower, with roots in Brooklyn and the Mississippi Delta, is everything AD's follow-up album (the tepid Zingalamaduni) should have been. Wild Seed is all hip-hoppy blues and soul with a popster's heart and a rebel's spirit.
Powered by a strong voice and knack for metaphor and commentary, Farris' strongest suit is her feel for stylistic knuckleballs. Her deep blues recasting of the Beatles' Blackbird flirts with the haunting feel of Cassandra Wilson's Blue Light Till Dawn. The disc-opening, slide-guitar-driven I Know evokes the smart folk-pop of Joan Armatrading, and In Living Color's David Alan Grier contributes a couple of funny cameos. But whether delving into politically charged a cappella (Human) or pensive, Sly-styled balladry (Food For Thought) Farris' "urban Southerner" aesthetic shines through.
Unlike the legions of genre-hopping dilettantes, the only style Farris is devoted to is her own.
Dionne Farris: Wild Seed _ Wild Flower (Columbia)++++